We are going to review the book, “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace. From the Amazon review: Paul Wallace teaches in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga, and is Pastor for Adult Education at First Baptist Church of Decatur. He teaches occasionally at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and at Columbia Theological Seminary. He holds a PhD in nuclear physics from Duke University and an MDiv with a concentration in historical theology from Emory.
For 10 years Paul was a professor of physics and astronomy at Berry College in Rome, Ga. He has twice been awarded a NASA Faculty Fellowship at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and has twice served on the faculty of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative in Dharamsala, India.
This is a very good book for the average Evangelical who struggles with faith and science issues. Paul grew up in the south in a Southern Baptist church. He was inculcated in the anti-science views that came from the strong anti-evolution viewpoints typical of churches in that geographical and cultural location of that time. Paul’s dad was a civil engineer specializing in hydrology and nuclear waste. He loved God and loved science and communicated those loves to Paul. Paul’s parents took Paul and his siblings to church every time the doors were open and he was taught Bible stories in a way that plainly conflicted with evolution.
A second grade field trip to Fernback Science Center and their astronomy room ignited a life-long love of astronomy in the young boy. Paul says:
After this, I learned all the astronomy I could. From there, with Dad’s help, I familiarized myself with the basics of evolution and natural history. I became the household dinosaur expert. My parents supported my obsession, buying me astronomy books and dinosaur books and a large collection of plastic tyrannosaurs and stegosaurs and apatosaurus. I slipped them into my pockets before leaving for school. At recess, I played with them on an outcrop of rock, which looked pretty prehistoric to me, at the far end of the playground.
Eventually, as he moved through high school and into to college the cognitive dissonance of what he was taught in church and what he was learning in his science classes came to fruition and he abandoned his childhood faith and finally embraced atheism. The book is about how he returned to faith in Christ and reconciled the faith vs. science issues for himself, and how others in a similar struggle might find the same path as he did.
The book is short, only 121 pages, and Wallace writes in a very personable style that doesn’t get too science-heavy. He is big on analogy and metaphor which I think is absolutely essential to help Evangelicals over the faith vs. science hump, much more so than discursive argumentation and apologetics. An example from the introduction:
“Years ago, on a clear October evening, I saw Uranus with my naked eye. My lab assistant and I stayed behind at the college observatory after all the Astronomy 101 students had departed for the night, and we devoted ourselves to the project. It took some effort, but we both succeeded in spotting the seventh planet amid the stars scattered along the Aquarius-Pisces boundary, with no help from binoculars or telescopes.
Uranus sits just this side of visibility and moves slowly, taking eighty-four years to complete a single lap around the sun. For these reasons, it spent many years cataloged as a star. Then in 1781, an Englishman named William Herschel observed it through his homemade telescope, thought it looked odd, and recorded it as comet. Within a couple of years, however, astronomers overruled this assignment and announced the first discovery of a planet in recorded history.
Herschel named it George. Non-British astronomers, uninterested in honoring King George III of England, weren’t having it. Scientists haggled over the name for decades, and the planet was finally given its permanent moniker in 1850. Uranus jokes began appearing in print shortly thereafter.
In order to see Uranus with your naked eye, you must meet certain requirements. First you need to be under a truly dark sky. Humidity, city lights, moonlight, or any combination of these brighten the sky so much that Uranus will be wiped clean out. You must also have excellent vision, a star chart showing the exact location of Uranus among the stars at the time of observation, and plenty of patience.
With all this, however, you could still look and look and look and not spot it. In fact, you could stare directly at Uranus for hours without knowing it. The source of this puzzlement dwells not in the heavens but in your eye. The human retina contains two kinds of light-detecting cells, cones and rods. Cones respond to colors and bright lights and are concentrated at the center of the retina, opposite the lens. Rods detect low levels of light and are spread out around the cones, but the planet glows too faintly to be detected by these cells. You’ll never see Uranus by looking at it.
But if you look just to the side of it, its light falls on your rods, and the planet pops into view. Once this happens, you instinctively move you eye back toward it and poof, it disappears again. Resisting this reflex feels weird at first, but with practice, the technique becomes natural. Experience star-gazers are accustomed to using this so-called averted vision to see dim objects.
Much as some things can be seen not by looking at them but by looking at what is next to them, some things can be understood not by thinking about them but bye thinking about what is next to them. The more you think about these things or try to figure them out or nail them down, the more elusive they become. They can’t be grasped by head-on thinking. But if you relax a little and think to the side, you might come to know what you could never comprehend directly.”
I like his this way of not coming at a subject directly, but by approaching it “from the side” so to speak. It reminds of the C.S. Lewis quote:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
There is something very Eastern Orthodox in Paul Wallace’s way of thinking and writing. He writes with both humility and wit. I think your Southern Baptist (or other Evangelical) friend will find it engaging and informative.